Campaigners have called for private housing landlords to be held to new standards set out after the death of Awaab Ishak, as research indicated that 1.6 million children live in privately rented homes with damp, mould or excessive cold.
The government this month announced a new “Awaab’s law” that will set deadlines for social landlords in England and Wales to tackle reported hazards. Two-year-old Awaab was killed by mould in a social housing flat in Rochdale in 2020.
However, the legislation does not extend to private landlords and there are concerns that children in those properties could suffer the same fate.
Analysis by Citizens Advice, based on a survey of 2,000 renters, suggests more than half of private renters in England – 2.7m households – are struggling with damp, mould, excessive cold or a combination of these factors.
The charity said poor energy efficiency was often to blame, and its study showed that tenants of private rentals are 73% more likely to be living with damp if they live in a property with an energy performance certificate rating of D-G rather than A-C. Tenants in a D-G property are 89% more likely to experience excessive cold than those with more efficient homes.
The average private sector tenant in England is paying £350 more a year on heating because of poorly insulated and damp homes, while those in the least efficient properties are paying an extra £950.
Those in the least efficient homes could pay £1,190 more a year from April, when energy bills will rise again.
Landlords are only required to bring properties to an E rating and do not have to make any improvements that will cost more than £3,500.
Britain’s leaky housing stock has been blamed for high energy bills. Earlier this month, Greenpeace threatened to take legal action against the government after it emerged that a target to lift millions of struggling households out of fuel poverty was likely to be missed.
On Tuesday, Citizens Advice called on the government to bring the private sector in line with the rules set out for social housing under Awaab’s law, to place “strict, legally binding timelines” on landlords to deal with serious issues such as damp and mould.
Gillian Cooper, the head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Every week we hear stories of people living in cold, damp and mouldy properties they can’t afford to heat properly. Improving energy efficiency in privately rented homes has never been more urgent. It’s the step needed to keep people’s essential bills low, while also helping to protect their mental and physical health.”
The charity highlighted the plight of Laurie, a single parent with two sons under five, who moved into her rented home in April 2022.
She reported mould and damp to her letting agent and has been unable to top up her prepayment meter to keep the property warm. “I was so worried about both my sons’ health. They’ve been so poorly and I’ve had them both in hospital with chest infections. They were never sick like this before,” she said.